Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are largely considered a ‘female problem,’ but men also develop UTIs and the unpleasant symptoms that accompany them.
“UTIs are far less common in males, and typically occur in infants and elderly men but do happen in men of all ages,” says Dr. Paul Angleton, a Mercy Clinic family physician. “They are caused by bacteria and happen more often if people are not well hydrated, if they have enlarged prostates, and are slightly more likely in men who have not been circumcised.” These risk factors may cause the urinary flow to be obstructed or reduced, allowing bacteria to remain and proliferate in the bladder or urethra instead of being flushed away through regular urination.
Sudden onset of urinary urgency and increased frequency, burning during urination and blood in the urine are symptoms that should be assessed by a physician. Diagnosis of a UTI is generally based on a physical exam and urine tests, although additional tests are sometimes required in people who have recurrent UTIs. Just as in women, men diagnosed with a UTI are treated with antibiotics to clear the infection.
If bacteria in the male urinary tract infect the prostate, swelling and irritation can occur. This infection, known as ‘prostatitis,’ is generally treated with antibiotics, although it can recur, becoming a chronic concern that requires ongoing medical management.
“Prostatitis and epididymitis (inflammation of the tube at the back of the testicle that stores and carries sperm) are the only complications specific to men, but other complications include infection spreading into the kidney or the bloodstream, which is why it is important not to delay treatment or ignore your symptoms,” Angleton says.
In addition to the simple in-office urine test, “urine is then sent for culture to identify the bacterial pathogen and checked for sensitivities to determine appropriate therapy and identify resistant organisms,” explains Dr. David Bryan, a urologist with St. Louis Urological Surgeons at St. Luke’s Hospital. “The treatment at this point is the same, regardless of sex. In men, a urinary tract infection may lead to retention of urine and require catheterization.”
Drinking plenty of water and urinating when the urge arises can help prevent UTIs in both men and women. “Two keys for men are to keep well hydrated and to make sure they actually have an established relationship with a primary-care physician so they do not end up delaying treatment,” Angleton notes.